Directed by Greg Mottola
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 107 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 44.99
Release Date: August 25, 2009
Review Date: August 18, 2009
A very average coming of age story from the director of Superbad, Adventureland never scores heavily with either laughs or dramatics. There is a mostly pleasurable cast to help ease the slight story along and a certain nostalgic wistfulness of two decades ago mirroring how the world was different, but the fact remains that what seemed an enormous turning point in the life of the movie’s originator which gave him the idea for the film in the first place doesn’t guarantee that it’ll have the same effect on those of us who are watching it unfold. This will likely be a minor entry in the filmographies of many of the participants here.
Unable to receive financial assistance from his father for his summer tour of Europe or his entry into journalism graduate school, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) cancels his travel plans and takes a base level summer job as a games concessionaire at Adventureland, a local amusement park. There he meets a cross section of people just as miserable to be there as he is: the nerdy Joel Schiffman (Martin Starr), childhood nemesis Tommy Frigo (Matt Bush), park sexpot Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), park managers Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig), and a funny but sad fellow gamester whom he takes a romantic interest in, Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart). He doesn’t know that Em is having a secret affair with married park handyman Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the kind of blue collar dreamboat that often girls fantasize about.
The 1987 setting for the story features these early 20-year olds with a decided high school air about them. Drugs and drink are readily available and often partaken leading, of course, to the requisite barfing at regular intervals and lots of attention to bodily fluids courtesy of Matt Bush’s idiotic Frigo who finds fun in continually punching his guy friends in the genitals and urinating in eye-line of his friends. Most of the shenanigans around the park are rather lackluster and uninteresting except for the dedicated approach to park maintenance and involvement that the characters of Bobby and Paulette provide. Their antics, as sporadic as they are, are the best and most consistent funny bits in the script. Elsewhere, the drama implicit in these young people stumbling their way through rough and rocky relationships and the cruelty of prejudice and the need to gossip about others while they’re down doesn’t provide much inspiration either, but the earnestness of the performances at least draws us in and makes us care. The period details of the park are spot-on giving viewers of a certain age more nostalgic pull with this material than younger viewers might have.
James Brennan and Em Lewin make a stalwart central couple. She in particular achieves some poignancy with her unhappy home life and the guilt of carrying on with a married scoundrel. Martin Starr’s Joel doesn’t get the attention in the script such a challenging character deserves, but the sequences where he asserts himself are always well fashioned. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig walk away with the comedy honors for their endearing seriousness about the park’s functionality. Ryan Reynolds makes an effectively selfish cad while giving the character some shades of gray that don’t paint him as a total villain.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is delivered in 1080p using the AVC codec. Color depth and accuracy are fine, and flesh tones are very appealing. Contrast varies, however, with the transfer, sometimes dialed in perfectly and delivering a splendidly dimensional image and at other times milky and giving us a flat, lifeless image. Black levels are very nicely rendered. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a disappointment. Fidelity is rather lackluster on occasion, and while the forty rock songs of the era punctuate the soundtrack and add interest to the visuals, there is very little spread through the soundstage with most of the music decidedly frontcentric. The rear channels and the LFE channel get next to no use in this audio mix.
The audio commentary features writer-director Greg Mottola and star Jesse Eisenberg in a chatty but only moderately interesting conversation about the making of the film. More fascinating are Mottola’s reasons behind choosing the many songs he’s included on the soundtrack for certain scenes.
“Just My Life: The Making of Adventureland” is the film’s EPK making of-featurette. Featuring the writer-director and stars discussing the film, this feature runs 16 ¼ minutes and is in 480i.
There are three deleted scenes which can be watched together in one 2 ½-minute grouping or individually. They each have optional commentary by the director as a choice.
Thirty of the rock songs featured in the film are provided in a music selection checklist which will carry the viewer to the part of the film where the song happens.
“Frigo’s Ball Tap” is a silly 2 ½ minutes with actor Matt Bush as he shows his various techniques for his genital attacks. It’s in 1080p.
“Lisa P.’s Guide to Style” finds actress Margarita Levieva giving 1980s styling commentary on her character’s hair, nails, wardrobe, shoes, and make-up. This 1080p featurette runs 2 minutes.
“Welcome to Adventureland” is a series of four brief tongue-in-cheek featurettes about the fictional park in the film. There are two commercials for the theme park each running ½-minute, a 3 ½-minute employee orientation video, and a ¾-minute statement about the park’s drug policy concerning the lack of tolerance. All are in 1080p but made to look old and distressed in quality.
There are 1080p previews for Extract, 10 Things I Hate About You, and The Proposal, among others.
The second disc in the set is the digital copy of the movie with instructions inside for installation on Mac and PC devices.
3/5 (not an average)
Honest performances and a familiar story which nevertheless rings true give Adventureland a marginal recommendation.